It is common knowledge that 28 nanometers (nm) chip technology delivers better performance compared to 40nm. This is because the gate density of 28nm chip technology is higher, the transistor speed is increased by about 50%, and the energy consumption is reduced by 50% per switch. Taking cost and technical factors into account, the 28nm chip technology will become the mid-range mainstream process node for a long time in the future. These chips are regarded by the industry as the differentiation between mature process and advanced process.
28nm has also become the mature process in 5G infrastructure, new energy vehicles, UHV, big data centers and many other areas that industrial internet markets are currently focusing on.
As a result, China is gearing up the production of 28nm chip technology. According to Dr. Guangnan Ni, Academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, in a recent interview with Chinese media Weiot, “Once the domestic production of 28nm comes up to speed in China, many downstream application industries will become self-reliant in chips; that means we will be able to meet the needs of most electronic products beyond mobiles. It will be an excellent opportunity for local companies along the chip industry supply chain. In the current ecosystem, we can find leading companies in research and development in each segment that straddle the entire value chain – SMIC that has 28nm chip foundry capabilities and Shanghai Micro Electronics Equipment (Group) Co., Ltd. that announced it would deliver the first domestic 28nm lithography machine in 2021 are some of the prominent examples. Thanks to companies like these, we are fully equipped for domestic mass production of 28nm chip technology.”
China expects to achieve self-sufficiency in 28nm production this year itself. According to data released by the State Council in August 2020, China’s chip self-sufficiency rate will reach 70% by 2025. Compared to the 30% self-sufficiency rate in 2019, it will increase by 40% in six years. Analysys Mason reports that in 2020, the production of semiconductors in China rose by 16.2%, a far sharper increase than the 7.2% of 2019.
Under the current trend, domestic 28nm chips will have great development opportunities and help overcome the current shortages experienced in the world market too.
“The opportunity lies ahead, but companies must also realize how to get their house to grasp this opportunity. Finding deficiencies and correcting them in time, fine-tuning the links and cooperation between the various components of the 28nm process supply chain and realizing the advantages of the domestic potential of 28nm chips fully are essential. Strengthen production capacity, make it truly independent and controllable and seize the current market gold mine!” says Dr. Guangnan Ni.
The self-sufficiency of 14nm chips will come next and is expected to be realized next year. According to data released by SMIC, mass production of 14nm process chip started in the fourth quarter of 2019. In March this year, the yield rate of its 14nm chips had reached 90%-95%, an industry-leading level, allowing the company to fully respond to the needs of downstream application industries. We expect all aspects of 14nm chips production in China to quickly improve, enabling the country to reach 100% domestic mass production next year.
14nm chips have become the best choice for downstream users in applications such as mid-to-high-end AP/SoC, data processing, GPU, mining machine ASIC, FPGA and automotive semiconductors. After localization in China, the impact on new energy vehicles and other fields that China is vigorously developing will be huge. More importantly, this will provide the foundation for higher-end chip deposition technology in China while improving the level of China’s chip process technology and laying a solid foundation for the chip self-sufficiency rate to reach 70% by 2025.
“Although the current market has provided development opportunities to local integrated circuit companies, they must understand that the integrated circuits industry requires high collaboration and mutually beneficial development. Therefore, if the companies in the supply chain work independently, the development of the industry will be compromised since it cannot rely on a single point for a breakthrough. Instead, the efficiency of the domestic integrated circuits industry can only be brought into full play when there is coordination in the ecosystem from every area, e.g. basic materials, core algorithms, peripheral consumables, chip design, packaging and testing, and downstream applications,” according to Dr. Guangnan Ni.
From Dr. Guangnan Ni’s point of view, a completely autonomous Chinese system can meet the needs of China’s current new infrastructure and critical information infrastructure businesses. After changes in the domestic system, even if there are only 14nm and 28nm chip processes, it is more important to rely on software and hardware and overall system design coordination.
Local scientific and technical personnel will also need to break the boundaries of traditional thinking and achieve high performance by using software to enhance hardware and build China’s own semiconductor system. The goal will be to realize independent innovation of chips with “Chinese systems”, localized under the background of mass production of 28nm chips. This will enhance the confidence and strength of China’s semiconductor industry chain for further development while giving global customers of Chinese companies greater choice.